Since it didn’t win the contest I entered it in, I thought I’d post one of my short stories here. If you like it (or maybe don’t), please sign up to be a follower and leave a comment! P.S. Audra calls this a “creeper” story.
Essence of Angel
The lights went out with a sizzle as each candle was snuffed between wet thumb and finger. He preferred the softer light of candles to the glare of electric lights. He hadn’t been home long; he’d ridden the subway longer than usual, looking, watching, waiting for an angel. Now it was nearly daybreak.
He dropped his clothes to the floor and crawled between the sheets, hoping he would dream about the beautiful woman he’d seen earlier. Not that she’d noticed him. Women like her couldn’t even see guys like him. He was homely. Ugly, even. He’d accepted the fact in his youth. If girls noticed him at all, it was to snicker behind his back. Women still didn’t consider him worthy, but they loved his paintings, loved for him to point out their beauty to the world. That paid the bills, but his real passion was his angels.
Early the next morning he sat beneath yellowing light coming through plastic skylights. He hunched over his studio table, hands deftly working soft clay, willing it to take the shape he saw so clearly in his mind. He smiled. The wooden pick moved fluidly in his fingers as he detailed the figure of an angel. Her torso, wrapped in an exquisite flowing gown, showed just a peek of tiny toes. Her delicate arms extended forward, as though reaching for a loved one. They seemed almost to float out from her body. Each ended with dainty hands, intricate even to the wrinkles of each knuckle and half moon fingernails.
Her wings measured as long as she was tall. Swept back as if she were about to take flight, they were layered with finely etched feathers. This was one thing the critics liked about his work: the details. That, and a quality in the firing and glaze that they “couldn’t put their fingers on,” one critic had written. He smiled again, knowing the secret was “essence.”
A wavy mane of hair trailed behind her, buoyed by an imaginary breeze. A little tendril curled forward across her breast. With a last touch of tongue to finger, he smoothed the surface of her featureless face and leaned back. She was nearly done. All that she lacked was a spirit. The face of a special woman set free in his figurine. Until then, this angel would wait in the air-tight cabinet. Perhaps it would get a soul today. He hoped so.
Several hours later he was riding the subway, looking for the soul of an angel, and he’d found one. She was probably only twenty, and perfect. He knew well the tortured life she must have endured, for she was like him: ugly, invisible. For fifteen minutes he’d been sketching her likeness and, in all that time, not one person on the train had seemed to notice her. How they could not notice her, though, he couldn’t figure. Everything about her was calling to him.
Over-sized eyebrows sat like fatted caterpillars above mouse-gray eyes. Her hooked nose reminded him of a parrot. It was only three-quarters of an inch at its widest. While most people’s lips sat a comfortable finger-width below the nose, hers was jammed up underneath the base of her nasal septum the way a canoe would beach against a tree.
What really caught his attention, though, was her mouth. Though of average fullness, and painted with entirely too much plum-colored lipstick, their width was startling. In Art 101 they had taught him that lips should extend as far as the outer edges of the irises of the eyes. This angel’s mouth extended fully to the outer edges of her eyes. Yes. She was perfect.
“Hi.” Her large lips parted in a nervous smile, then she returned her bird nose to her book.
“Excuse me, M’am?” He held the drawing close to his chest.
She looked up again. “Yes?”
“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve drawn you. I mean, I’ve drawn your face.” He turned the drawing around and held it up to show her. This was one of his favorite moments, seeing the look on their face.
“Oh, my. It…it’s really…beautiful.” Her large jammed-up mouth hung open.
He stood and switched to a seat beside her. “I’m glad you like it. I hope you don’t mind that I drew you without asking first.”
“But it’s not…I mean, I’m not pretty, not like in your drawing.”
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s what’s inside that matters, not what you see in the mirror?”
She looked at him askance. “Who are you, and why did you draw me?”
“I’m Gabe.” He hastily rubbed pencil smudges off of his fingertips onto his jeans and stuck his hand out.
“Trish.” She hesitated for a moment, then took his hand weakly. “How’d you do that? How’d you draw it to look like me, but not be…not look like me?”
He chuckled and smiled with a mouthful of crooked teeth. “It’s easy. I just drew your essence. Your spirit. It doesn’t matter what’s on the outside.”
She turned slightly toward him and studied his face. “You’re about the only person I’ve ever met who can bear to look at me.” She looked away again.
“I wonder if you’d mind helping me with a piece in my studio. It’s not quite right. I’d like to give it your essence.”
“Yeah, you know, your essence. I’d like to preserve your essence in my sculpture.”
“Me? Are you kidding?”
“I wasn’t kidding when I drew that sketch.”
She looked uncertain about how to answer.
“Come on. If you like the drawing, think how you’ll look as a sculpture.” He winked at her. “Better decide quickly. I get off in two stops.”
“Oh, okay. Sure. You can capture my ‘essence,’ or whatever you call it.” She smiled and blushed.
Fifteen minutes later they were standing in a nearly empty warehouse. “Well, this is it. This is my kiln. I built it myself.” He waved a hand toward the brick monstrosity occupying the center of the warehouse.
She turned her palms toward the heat. “Mmm, it’s warm and smells good. How can you burn wood in the city?”
He laughed. “Did you look at my neighborhood? Between the rail yard, pallet factory, and ship docks, my smokesack isn’t even noticeable. Besides, my secret firing process adds a…different quality to the smoke. Come over here.” He patted a stool next to his work table. “Sit here. I need to light a candle to set a gentle mood.”
She set her backpack on the floor, suddenly looking self conscious as she settled on the paint-stained barstool. “This is kind of exciting.”
He flipped a switch and plunged himself and the angel-in-waiting into darkness, then reached into his pocket for a lighter and lit the candle on the work table. The light was soothing, and he could see her face in soft yellow tones. She looked happy, expectant. He smiled back. Just a few minutes more, angel. From within the airtight cabinet the clay angel was brought to the worktable, and the wooden pic traced the outline of the model’s face onto its blank oval. Before wax ran down the candle, he was finished. The face he’d drawn for the subway angel just an hour ago now rested upon the clay angel. He had transferred her soul; now he would transfer her essence, too.
“You look tense. Before you can see the angel, you need to relax. Here, let me help you. I can’t have my model portraying tension.” He stepped behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, kneading her tense muscles. He rubbed up between her shoulders and the base of her neck.
As his arm slipped casually around her neck she probably thought, briefly, that he was going to hug her. But as his elbow reached just below her chin and the vice grip closed in, cutting off the flow of blood to her brain, she even more briefly must have known she was about to die. She tried to flail her arms and legs, but as with the others, she passed out within seconds.
A moment longer, and she was permanently unconscious. As she went limp, he gathered her up in his arms and laid her out on the worktable. With a tiny knife he sliced the end of her finger and gently squeezed a few precious red drops into a tiny glass bottle of creamy white glaze.
Now came the risky part–putting the clay angel in the kiln. If she didn’t dry slowly, she would be brittle. If it took too long, the priceless glaze would spoil. But he had a secret; a bit of salt and moist fuel eliminated the problem. With practiced steps, he carefully placed the clay angel on a shelf in the kiln, then opened the door to the firebox. He lifted the now lifeless subway angel and set her tortured spirit free.